An Easy Button? Who knew?
In a season of sweating just about every finish, the Miami Heat got something completely different Wednesday night at Miami-Dade Arena.
This time there was a 28-point lead at the end of the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies and no need to pad their already gaudy numbers of clutch and five-point games.
Just a 138-119 victory over an opponent lacking suspended guard Ja Morant.
So this time, Jimmy Butler had to play in attack mode for only three quarters, able to sit out the fourth after scoring 23.
This time, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro provided ample support, Adebayo with 26 points and eight rebounds, Herro with 24 points and six assists, both watching the finish from the comfort of the bench.
And this time Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love were able to establish footing as coach Erik Spoelstra works toward something closer to a playoff rotation.
“I literally had to look at the scoreboard probably 10 times during that fourth quarter, like, ‘Is my math right?’ ” Spoelstra said. “And I say that out of respect, so Memphis doesn’t take it the wrong way. We just haven’t had many of these this year.”
It reached the point where there even was the comfort of a fourth-quarter “We Want Haslem!” chant for 42-year-old team captain Udonis Haslem, as the Heat posted their first double-digit victory since a 26-point decision over the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 18. (He did not enter.)
The victory moved the Heat within two games of the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets in the race for the final automatic playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and three games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 7 seed, the top seed in the four-team play-in round, with 11 regular-season games left for the Heat.
The Heat are now idle until a weekend back-to-back road set on Saturday night against the Chicago Bulls and Sunday against the Detroit Pistons.
“We can’t afford to let any slip away,” Adebayo said.
Five Degrees of Heat from Wednesday’s game:
1. Closing time: The Heat led 29-27 at the end of the first period, behind 14 points in the quarter by Butler, with the lead up to 63-51 at halftime and then 105-77 going into the fourth.
Unlike most recent games, the Heat this time put it away at the end of their 42-point third period, which they closed on a 14-0 run.
“It felt great to be in that position,” Adebayo said, “being up in the whole game, in control of the game,”
The Grizzlies then pulled their starters before the start of the fourth, with Jaren Jackson Jr. leading them with 25 points and nine rebounds.
Memphis has now lost 12 of its last 14 on the road.
“Yes, it does feel good to have one of these games,” Spoelstra said. “You can walk out of this building tonight feeling a little bit different.”
2. Still rolling: Butler continued to play his preferred bully ball, up to 10 of 11 from the line at halftime, when he was up to 18 points.
He entered since the All-Star break averaging 26.1 points on .603 shooting from the field. .851 shooting from the line, .500 shooting on 3-pointers, with 6.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals.
Able to finally get his minutes down, playing just 27:53 and seated for good before the end of the fourth quarter, he closed 6 of 11 from the field and 11 of 12 from the line, with eight rebounds, six assists and two steals.
“We need every bit of it,” Spoelstra said of Butler playing in attack mode from the outset of games. “He’s not going to take his foot off the pedal.”
3. Woe-mer Yurtseven: It was not the best of moments for backup center Omer Yuretseven at the outset, when he was called for his second foul 69 seconds into his opening stint and then his third 2:11 into that stint, forced to the bench.
That had Spoelstra rushing Adebayo back into the game.
It was Yurtseven’s third appearance of the season in his return from November ankle surgery, and there might not necessarily be many more.
When Adebayo took his break in the second period, the Heat went small, with Haywood Highsmith entering, his first appearance in eight games.
When Adebayo sat in the third quarter, Highsmith entered and Kevin Love was shifted to center.
Yurtseven did not return in the second half until the Heat were up 126-100 with 4:44 to play.
“O is working,” Spoelstra said. “He’s doing what he needs to do behind the scenes. There’s a lot of expectation in those minutes.”
Spoelstra indicated that veteran center Cody Zeller could be back by next week, but not this weekend. Zeller broke his nose Saturday against the Magic.
4. No-la-dipo: A cornerstone of the Heat second unit this season, Victor Oladipo was shuffled out of the rotation, with Max Strus, Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin the reserve wings of choice.
Oladipo, who often has been scattershot with his play this season, particularly over the past month, was coming off an 11-point outing against the Jazz on Monday night.
The Heat did not report an injury, with Oladipo having appeared in the previous 11 games since his return from a seven-game absence with an ankle sprain.
It was part of a Spoelstra recalibration of the rotation that had Strus held out of Monday’s first half.
“I don’t have a definitive answer right now,” Spoelstra said of his rotation. “How it played out tonight is not necessarily what I had on my card. The first guy I talked to was Vic.
“The last game it was Max who had to sacrifice in the second half.”
5. Where is the Love?: The Heat’s game-operations team managed to ease a bit of pain for Love with 6:44 to play in the third period.
That’s when, after Grizzlies guard Desmond Bane ran over Love and was called for an offensive foul, the Heat’s video board immediately replayed the clear blow delivered by Bane to Love’s groin. Only then did officiating crew chief Marc Davis signal for a flagrant-foul rule.
Upon review, Bane was ejected with a Flagrant 2 foul, sending Love to the line and giving the Heat possession. Love said he wound up with back pain in the wake of the jolt.
“Bane is a big boy,” Love said. “I just got put in a bad position. I took it in the groin pretty good.”